An Antarctic iceberg is heading to the island of South Georgia with concerns that the size of a small country could disrupt the economy of the British mainland and its wildlife.
Iceberg A-68 broke the Larson Sea ice east of the Antarctic Peninsula in July 2017 and is in the same shape as South Georgia, where it is feared it could be heading.
The A-68A, which is now 150 kilometers (93 miles) long and 48 kilometers (30 miles) wide, has flown about 1,400 kilometers north through an area known as “Iceberg Alley” to find itself about 500 kilometers from South Georgia.
“It’s absolutely huge and it’s the largest iceberg around the South Ocean,” said Dr Sue Cook, a glycologist at the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership.
He told the Guardian that Iceberg was following a familiar track to many more, but it was difficult to predict the final outcome. “It lasted three years which is longer than expected,” he said.
Cook said weather patterns, currents and the shape of icebergs have made predictions difficult. The giant floating ice island, about 200 meters thick, could break or scatter.
The thin profile of the iceberg, observed by satellites, may be more responsible for floating near South Georgia before it gets stuck in the ocean floor.
Gerant Turling, a professor at the British Antarctic Survey, told the BBC he was concerned about the possibility of icebergs affecting South Georgia.
“A nearby iceberg has a huge impact on where land-based hunters may be able to graze.”
“When you talk about penguins and seals, it’s really important to them – when raising puppies and puppies – they can travel real distances to find food, which is really important. If they have to make a big fuss, it means they don’t go back in time with their youngsters to prevent intermittent starvation. “
Turling said ecologists feared a return to the iceberg that the iceberg could have sat for a decade. “This will make a huge difference not only to South Georgia’s ecosystem, but also to its economy,” he said.
The part broke off the Larson Sea ice shelf in Antarctica in July 2017 and that time was about 175 kilometers long and about 50 kilometers wide – larger than Luxembourg.
According to the European Space Agency, the iceberg soon lost a part and began a naming conference where the largest part was named A-68 to A-68A and the smaller part A-68B.
The A-68A lost another piece in April 2020 (A-68C extended) and is now about 150 km long and 48 km wide. South Georgia is 165 kilometers long and 35 kilometers wide.
In April, the iceberg was 230 kilometers west-southwest of the South Orkney Islands.
“It’s hard to predict exactly where we will end up,” Cook said.
“Right now it’s about 500 kilometers away from South Georgia, but if it’s 150 kilometers long it’s not too far away and I can see why people would be concerned. Because most of it is under water, it will make a long way to the bottom which means it is easy to navigate and it is also common.
He agreed that depending on where the iceberg ended, it could disrupt all the routes it could get to the feeding fields.
“It scraps the marine floor and affects the animal community there. If you get stuck in the wrong place, it can affect shipping. “
Cook said the release of icebergs was normal and there was nothing about the size of the A-68A that was particularly unusual “but it’s happening in areas where a lot of change has been seen”.
The ice sheets in the north went through the event of breaking and there was also speculation that Larsen CO was at risk of being isolated. “When you lose a huge area there is always the possibility that the rest of the shelf will become more unstable,” he said.
Dr Andrew Fleming of the British Antarctic Survey also told the BBC that the A-68 could turn south Georgia into hot water, where it could break more quickly.
Ice shelves are already floating on the ocean, so when they are detached they cannot directly rise to sea level.
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